Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Eat The World- Paella

Living back in the city definitely has its benefits, like great big grocery stores with everything I could possibly want to cook, for one thing. Book stores, because there is always room for more cookbooks, right? Gourmet shops and spice stores with literally hundreds of spices. All this access to ingredients and inspiration is really helping to drive my Eat The World theme and getting me to cook, and eat, foods from cuisines I have never tried before, like Spanish cuisine. Sure, I have had tapas before, who hasn't? I really wanted to get into something traditional and paella is widely regarded as the national dish of Spain. Rice has been a staple food in Spain since the 15th century, and with beautiful coastal regions, it's just natural that the Spanish combined rice with seafood and other meats in this delicious one-pan dish that gets its name from the vessel it's cooked in.

I highly recommend slicing your leeks lengthwise and then
rinsing under running water to remove all the grit. They can
be quite sandy and gross inside.
Back in the 18th century a typical paella might consist of rice, chicken, snails, duck, rabbit, beans, tomatoes, artichokes, fresh herbs and of course, saffron. In coastal regions there was usually more seafood and less meat in the dish. Modern paella is usually made with chicken, shellfish, and often a sausage such as chorizo. Regardless of region, there is one constant in all paella- good olive oil. 

A mezzaluna makes quick work of mincing herbs and it's
a fun little gadget to have around.
When I finally decided to go with paella, I started researching recipes. Paella can easily be a hundred dollar dinner, if not more. Imported rices, imported olive oils, and pricier seafood can drive the price up in a flash. I wanted to find ingredients that fit not only into my budget, but into the average family's budget as well. I also thought that the techniques and equipment needed to prepare the dish should not be too "cheffy" and should be so that the home cook can easily prepare this dish. Substituting chicken for more pricier fish options was a no brainer, especially since many Spanish cooks also use chicken. Choosing shrimp was a fairly reasonably priced option for seafood and using kielbasa instead of chorizo kept some of the flavors familiar but not too far from the original. As for the traditional paella pan, from which the dish gets its name, I don't own one, but I do own a wok-like pan from IKEA that will work perfectly. The lid has been broken but I've used a pizza pan many times for bigger skillets, and it did the trick again this time as well. I also did not need to stock up on exotic spices. Most cooks have paprika on hand, right? Saffron was the only spice that not everyone has on hand, but small bottles are relatively affordable. I've had a bottle of saffron on the shelf for a while, waiting to find the right dish. This version of paella is quite modern and I FINALLY get to use that saffron I have been hanging on to. 

Looks like a "big pinch" to me! Saffron has a very unique
fragrance and brings a gorgeous color to your recipe.
Easy Paella

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound medium shrimp, cleaned
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts or 3 thighs, cut into chunks
salt and pepper
8 oz kielbasa, sliced
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups rice 
2 tablespoons butter
generous pinch of saffron
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
small bunch scallions, sliced
handful chopped fresh Italian parsley
lime wedges

In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Cook the shrimp until pink and cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add more oil to the skillet if necessary. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to skillet, cooking until browned on all sides. Remove from skillet. 

Add the sliced kielbasa. Cook and stir until browned. Add the leeks and cook for one minute. Add the garlic and paprika and return the chicken to the pan.

Take the skillet off the heat and add the wine; return to high heat and boil until almost evaporated. 

Add the rice, butter, saffron and chicken stock. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook about 30 minutes until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Stir the shrimp, peas and sliced scallions into the rice; sprinkle with parsley and serve with lime wedges and crusty bread.

Now that I have one paella under my belt, I plan to try several versions. Many of the recipes I've seen had ingredients such as lobster, claims, snails, duck, legumes such as butter beans and other similar beans and vegetables of all kinds. Maybe a vegetarian version? Marinated and seared tofu as a protein? Scallops? This is going to be fun!

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